>> Hey there and welcome to Nature Boost! I'm Jill Pritchard with the Missouri Department of Conservation. The Missouri Conservationists, the MDC magazine, has been a flagship of the department since its first issue was published 85 years ago. How has this publication evolved? Why is it in demand, not only with Missourians, but readers throughout the country and the world? I sat down with the magazine's manager, Stephanie Thurber, to get some context on this popular periodical and what's next on the horizon.
Stephanie, thank you so much for joining me today.
>> Yeah, thanks for having me!
>> Missouri Conservationist magazine. Such a popular publication. I was thinking about it and I'm like, "Man, this is such a popular magazine that not only people in Missouri love, but people outside of Missouri, people across the world that receive this magazine." I thought this would be a great topic to talk about on the podcast.
This will be good to get into. Real quick, I would love for you to give us a little bit of background on the magazine. It started kind of right whenever this department began, right?
>> Yeah, the department was formed in 1937 and right away the magazine was formed. 1938 was the first issue, so this year will be 85 years strong for the magazine. It is quite a legacy publication that we are running here.
>> It's crazy. I feel like an 85 years . . . that's getting close to 100.
>> It's literally a lifetime.
>> It is! It is! It has evolved throughout the years. What type of articles did it have? Was it more focused on the hook and bullet type stuff in the beginning?
>> Yeah, it started as this 8 paged tabloid. Black and white, a lot of text. From the very beginning it had some photos, illustrations and even some diagrams and charts. But from the beginning, I went back and looked at those first few issues. It is kind of crazy how we have talked about the same subjects over this 85 year old history.
>> Oh yeah?
>> The very first issue talked about identifying fish. The differences between largemouth and smallmouth bass, knowing your limits, understanding the habitat, and knowing where to fish.
Then part of it too is the main mission of the magazine when it started and still today, informing the public of what we have in our own backyards. What the department is doing in terms of science based management, research projects, and all of that from the very first issue.
So what has changed of course is our delivery and how we talk about those subjects. We have a lot more illustrations over the years. A lot of photographs. But yeah, we have a little less hook and bullet articles but we definitely talk about hunting and fishing. That is a huge core of what we do. It is definitely an evolution like you said.
>> And one thing that you actually recruited me to do whenever I first started with the department.
Because for those listeners, I have mentioned it in the past, but also a part of my job is to help manage MDC's social media. Our Instagram is a huge platform where we feature a lot of the photos from the Missouri Conservationist and from our very very talented photographers. Something that you recruited me to do a few years ago is on the back cover of the magazine there is a little plug for .MDC's Instagram profile and people love to see those photos.
Not only do I post that, but we post the throwback covers and I have noticed throughout the years a person who did a lot of the covers was the artist Charles Schwartz. For those who may not know, he was a very talented artist. He did the book that is escaping me.
>> Mammals of Missouri
>> Right! Mammals of Missouri, yes! He had such a very identifiable style with his artwork. So to see how it has kind of evolved . . . he would really get into it too.
>> Yes, very detailed. That was definitely a strength. Really helpful in identifying these animals and knowing their characteristics. But such a knowledgeable person. Him and his wife Libby wrote Mammals of Missouri, they both worked for the department. He started out as a photographer. Again, looking back at the magazine you can see his influence and again that evolution. I can tell what decade you pull those throwback issues from.
>> Can you?
>> I'm like, "ooh, is it an illustration? I'm thinking 1970s. That was a good time."
I think that decade is when Schwartz hit his stride on the cover images. Or maybe we just really wanted to use them there. But they were so influential and so effective in delivering our messages and making an impact on our readers. He is a huge part of our magazine's history.
>> Definitely a really cool guy to learn about. And again plug for that book, if you ever are interested in checking out some of his work.
Something else I wanted to talk about. In the beginning, it wasn't every month.
>> Right! It was only published quarterly for about 5 years. Then in 1943 is when we started publishing them monthly and we have been monthly ever since.
>> Why was it only quarterly back then? Is it just because it was kind of a big endeavor?
>> I think they were just getting started seeing how you know, the department itself was getting started, our information section was getting things going. I am assuming they just figured there is a lot of positive response to the magazine. There is a high demand.
I believe going back to our records once we went monthly, the circulation shot from 20,000 to 200,000. I mean, it took several years to get there, but it just really took off. That's what Missourians wanted and readers really appreciated, so we just kept it ever since.
>> Let's talk about the evolution through the years. Can you give us maybe just some main bullet points of how it has changed? Some major changes?
>> Yeah, I mean it really followed the major trends of other magazines in publishing development. When it first started, it was black and white, a lot of text, a couple illustrations and images but then in 1943 when we did go monthly, we threw in some color in there. Getting really excited! Again when you pull the throwback covers you have the one color image. I am like, "that is early on, that is maybe '40s or '50s." It is funny I identify them that way.
>> That is cool.
>> Again, publishing trends developed over the years. We went to two color throughout the magazine, not just through the cover. Looking back you might see a little bit of color on the headlines here and there.
I don't remember exactly when but then we went four color printing on the cover and then it was throughout. Now it is just, if you look at today's issues it is just color right in your face. That visual enhancement has really grown over the years.
>> Absolutely! So visually interesting to look at. Again, I think I say this every episode. How lucky we are to have such talented people who work for us and care about the natural resources.
>> Yeah, I think that is my favorite part about working here, honestly. I will brag a little bit on my team. They are so crazy talented. Yes, the photographers get a lot of love, and they should because they are so good.
But everyone on the team brings their passion and it might not show in every day, but every issue you get the results of what I obviously think is an amazing product. And that is because everyone brings their passions to it. The writing is good, the design is on point, and obviously those photographs really bring it home.
>> They all come together to create a wonderful . . . a beautiful product.
>> So proud.
>> Good! You should be! It's incredible.
>> So we were talking about earlier, kind of the topics that were covered when it began. We do cover . . . what is the word I am trying to say . . .
>> Consumptive? Like hunting and fishing?
>> Yes, consumptive. Thank you. It has really grown to more outdoor recreation and outdoor enthusiast, nature watchers. That type of thing. Explain that a little bit more.
>> Yeah, so conservation as a topic is so diverse in all that it touches. Over the years, we just recognize that. We represent all Missourians as far as what conservation means and we really want to touch on all those interests. Every issue every year we try to balance out, maybe we hit birding pretty hard. We should cover hunting and fishing. Spring turkey is obviously huge. We should talk about that in the magazine. Fall deer hunting that's our prime. Really trying to balance that out is one of our . . . I wouldn't say challenges, but something we are cognizant of every issue.
>> And featuring diverse voices, too. You know, in the beginning obviously, conservation, a lot of it was you know from a male perspective. Now we are featuring not just that perspective but you know, minorities, women, it's for everybody. Everybody can enjoy it.
>> Yeah, it's for everyone. When folks can see themselves in the magazine they might take a bigger interest. It might make it more accessible to them. It might make them think, "maybe I can do that." It's not just for men to go hunting and fishing, obviously not.
So yeah, that has definitely evolved over the years and something we are really trying to push more and more. You have to be intentional about that. It is so easy to go to the same folks who go hunting and fishing for photo references and story ideas. But one of our main missions now is to really go look for those voices and perspectives and bring those to light. Because again, we try to represent all Missourians and that wide variety.
>> I love that. Yeah, absolutely. And I think it does show in the magazine, those efforts.
Another way that your staff has been giving voice to others and putting a different perspective on this publication is kind of in recent years, I would say, you have come out with Explore magazine for kids. So tell us about that.
>> Yeah. So Explore is a kids magazine. We say for kids and kids at heart. We get so much love form adults, which is awesome. We started Explore in 2010. We've had a kids section in the past. It used to be quarterly and it was called Outside In. So one of the things that we started was kind of right after I started here in 2007 was conversations about getting kids excited. The whole point is to get this next generation of kids interested and aware and bring up this next generation of conservationists.
Explore has been around since 2010, it comes out every other month. I love both of my magazine children equally but I am especially proud of Explore. I'm just a proud mama bear every time it comes out. It's just so fun. The Conservationist is also fun, too, obviously But we get to talk about poop a lot in Explore. It's real, you know?
>> It is real.
>> We get to draw a lot of cartoons about poop.
>> Bringing poop to you.
>> It's just what the kids need.
>> Kids, yeah, agreed. Agreed.
I really like it. I think I would classify myself definitely a kid at heart. I think it makes a lot of the information really digestible in little nuggets. It can be applied . . . there is stuff for younger kids, and obviously older kids, and kids at heart like you say. There are fun activities. It's great because it's one of those things like where you say we have the Jebruary.
>> It's January and February together. It's a good one. Do you like that?
>> Yeah! The January and February 2023 issue is out right now. It is telling us what is happening in nature and what kids can see and what kinds of activities you can do. You've got kids.
>> Yes, I do. I do.
>> Do they read it?
>> You know, kids are humbling.
>> That is the response I get from every parent I interview at MDC. I'm like, "what do your kids think of that?" and they are like, "eh, they don't care."
>> I know. You know, they do care when I give them the sneak peek. What's fun is I get to show them right before it goes to the printer. I have it and I am reviewing it. I'm like, "Hey, guys, what do you think of this? Do you understand what this means?" They've actually given very helpful feedback.
>> They're probably great guinea pigs for you.
>> Quite good. So, then it comes in the mail and I'm like, "Hey, guys, here it is and, "Meh." You know? And I'm like, "Oh, you crush me."
>> You cut me deep!
>> Real deep to the core. But we get a lot of good feedback from other kids that is positive. We do try to relate some high level facts to kids. One of the great things that Matt Seek does, our editor and writer, is relate how these things with animals relate to themselves. He will say, this coyote can run this fast and it would be like if you were to run this in this many seconds. You know, so it really breaks it down.
Obviously we can all relate to that. But kids for sure need that. It is super fun. It is a labor of love. But it is so fun. It's not work, it is for sure play for us. It's good.
>> How lucky you are to say that about your job!
>> It's fun.
>> That's one thing I will always say about working for this department. I am going to brag about it. You know, we are constantly learning. You never really know what your day is going to entail and what fact you are going to learn.
>> Oh yeah. I don't know how many times we have been in meetings for both magazines and we are like, "why don't we talk about this or I learned this," and we will all go, "wait, what? We have this in Missouri? No Way!" We all just learn from each other. So we are like, "well if we don't know, then the masses might not know."
>> Exactly! Exactly. So a big question we have received from the public is do you accept story ideas? Is there a lot of reader participation in the Missouri Conservationist?
>> That is a good question. That's another way we have evolved over the years to increase that reader participation in a bunch of ways. For the Conservationist, we definitely want those letters from readers, we have letters to the editor, we want to hear your thoughts, criticisms, feedback. Then we have Q&A's with Ask MDC. As far as story ideas, we welcome those. We get inspiration from everywhere. We want to know what readers want to read about.
>> Pictures, too!
>> Pictures too. We have a reader photo section. It is not too overly clever, but it doesn't need to be. Straightforward. Reader photos.
>> Yeah, we welcome those. Actually in the Missouri Conservationist in our December issue it was our first ever reader photo essay. It was not a contest, but 30 images all from readers. We talk for days on end how crazy talented our staff photographers are and others in the department. But our readers are crazy talented as well so we really wanted to feature that. It was a huge hit. We will do that again.
>> That's great. I think the cool thing about that is that they are spread out everywhere. They may see things in southern Missouri that don't occur in northern Missouri. Things like that.
>> So much of it is opportunistic, too. One of Nopp's crazy strengths is his patience and going and sitting out in a blind for hours in crazy cold weather just to get that shot. God bless him for having that patience, and having that talent and knowing when to wait.
What is great about the reader photos too is that you can capitalize on those opportunities where you don't have to wait. Maybe they do wait. God bless them too. Just really capturing those images for everyone to see and share is crazy and so good to see.
We welcome reader photos, we welcome story ideas, any feedback and criticism. We will take it all.
>> How can people submit all of that?
>> There are a couple different email addresses and I don't want to list them all. But the main one is email@example.com.
>> Hopefully that is easy to remember. We will get you where you need to be. Just start there.
>> So firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any story article ideas, any photos. Something I think is very important to mention, and you can tell us more about this. You plan these issues out so far in advance. Just a quick timeline check here. We are recording this episode in January of 2023. What issue are you currently working on?
>> We just uploaded the February issue pages on Friday. So we are now running into the March issue. Obviously, thinking about April content as well. We also have feature article ideas scheduled, probably half of 2024 is figured out. We do that just so if we have photo needs or we need to gather illustrations that we can get the right seasonal appropriate images to go with those articles.
For example, 2023 is the year of the photo essay because we have a lot planned. Which is awesome, I am excited for those. I think one of them that we had scheduled for this year we had to put off for next year because we didn't get enough variety of fireflies in the right season. You know? Things like that we need to think about. Again, just to bring the best content to our readers.
>> And working with Mother Nature, obviously, she can be unpredictable.
>> Yeah. So you know as much as I am loving not having snow right now it is sort of putting the photographers a little bit of a stress level. We need those new fresh winter images that are so great. But we need snow for that.
>> Exactly. Exactly. They make for great images, that is for sure. So it is safe to say you are really planning these issues out a year, or even years in advance.
>> Yes. That is so we can again focus on the balance of our content. Let's say August of 2024 we are going to have an article on hunting, maybe we balance that out with any science projects going on or what can we do recreational wise. Really trying to get that balance of content so it hits on a little bit of something for everybody each issue.
>> And so again that is important to note for people who want to submit photos or story ideas. We live in a society where it is instant gratification. We are so impatient because we have been conditioned to have that instant gratification. That is just an FYI. You can't put stories or photos into next month's issue. It takes some planning.
>> Yeah, for sure. We will forget sometimes about the set of photos for this year and then next year we are like, "when did we take this?" You know? We forget what awesome things we have done. But yeah, our magazines are not that instant news sharing. It is more of a learning experience, inspiration, and general awareness of what everyone has in their backyard.
>> Getting back to again the discussion on how this magazine has evolved and changed throughout the years. The internet has been a huge highlight for this magazine. You have a mobile app but also you have an online flipbook. So if people don't actually subscribe to the literal magazine itself they can go online and read it.
>> Yes. We offer a digital interactive version. We call it a digi mag. It is basically the exact same pages of the Missouri Conservationist but we add in a few extra interactive bits. Sometimes we add in extra photos, sometimes it is a video link, a lot of times it is a YouTube clip, often times we do sounds. That is really popular with any kind of bird content so you can hear what you are actually reading about and seeing. That is available through our Moconmag app.
It is all free. You know, definitely download that today. Everything is on our website. Our magazines are free to Missouri residents. All that online interactive content is free for anyone everywhere. So definitely encourage folks who have family out of state, maybe you want to save a little money on postage. It is all available online.
>> I just love it too, because you always have, and I'm not saying this just because I work for the department. It's just a great magazine in general, both the Missouri Conservationist and Explore. The thing I really love about it is that on the issue you are reading it is like, "Huh, what can I see? What is happening right now? Are owls doing their courtship this month, are groundhogs hibernating, or what is growing right now." I think that is so cool that you can learn so much about what is happening around you based on what time of year it is.
>> Sure. There is reason alone I think everyone in Missouri should be signed up for it. Obviously, I think everyone should be anyway. But I mean, you can learn, like you said, so much. Why are things happening around me? Why is this squirrel going over there? Why are these birds doing that? Just having that awareness and understanding of what is going on around you fingers crossed we provide that for readers every month.
>> Oh, absolutely. So tell me more about what your favorite part of the magazine is. I want to hear about Stephanie's opinion.
>> I love the variety within the routine of it. Every issue is different yet it has that structure to it that I personally like in my life. It doesn't get boring. You know, the photos are crazy good like we have talked about.
>> Do you have a favorite story or article?
>> You know I have a few for Explore that I am partial to. Explore, oh gosh, I think early on we did an article I think called The Wood Duck Diaries. It just makes me giggle every time I think about it because we wrote it from the wood duck's perspective first person. I met my mate, his name is Drake, Drake left me. It's just so true to what happens in their life. Again, it is that kid way. I think what I love so much about it is the design and the writing and the little details of it all. It just really still to this day sticks out as just fun about what we are teaching kids about the animals around them and what they see. For conservationists, a lot of these photo essays are just so powerful. I don't hunt, but in November we had this photo essay about these four families who take their dogs hunting, all sorts of hunting trips. You could feel how cold it was looking at these images because they were on a January hunting trip with their dogs and the snow and the ice was frozen on their faces. That just brings you in and helps you understand and get inspired by it.
>> I know exactly which article you are talking about.
One of my favorites . . . your writers all did Yelp reviews on different conservation areas.
>> Yeah! That was a fun one too. Part of it was like lighten the load. We will all just write a bit, take our photos, go on adventures and actually live these experiences and share them. The different regions around the state
And what you can do. That was fun. I was able to take my family out for a hunting trip and take photos. And that was fun, too, because again the kids you know think, "oh wait, that's me?" I had aunts and uncles be like, "is that your kid?" They finally made their debut.
So yeah, they enjoyed that as well. That was another one where we had an idea of, "Yeah, let's highlight what folks can do in their areas, and how do we do that differently? You know, let's write a Yelp review and of course we will point out the positives in what you can do."
The area I went to didn't have a bathroom, obviously knew that going into it. You know. It is something to consider. But yeah, I'm glad you liked that.
>> I did. That one always sticks out to me. I just thought that was such an ingenious idea to have that as a story.
So, looking at the year ahead. We are fresh in the year 2023, is there anything exciting or any stories you are excited about or any upcoming things with either the Missouri Conservationist or Explore that you want to give people a sneak peek of?
>> Yeah, so I mentioned 2023 is for Missouri Conservationist the year of the photo essay. We've got a lot coming down the schedule. I think we will hit on a photo essay for each season. It's not just that we post a picture and put some photo info. We provide a lot of captions and details about what it took to get the photo, the photographer's experience or how they had to get there. Then again, that reader photo essay in December is another one I am looking forward to just to see how it does the second year.
Then for Explore, we always have great articles. But one I am excited about is called Dinner From the Dirt. I believe it is still going to be all illustrated. It is all about what types of animals eat food from the dirt like grubs and worms and things like that.
>> Oh like armadillos.
>> How do you eat? What eats this? Again it is just another way to share information about those critters in a fun, illustrative in a very visual way. I am excited to see how that one turns out.
>> Me too! I always look forward to getting the issue and who is featured. Who wrote something? It is not only MDC's employees and staff writers. You know, we also feature people from outside the department who write for us. I love seeing the agent advice from the different MDC's agents, a different agent each month has a little advice on you know whether it is hunting, fishing or just being outside. You know, advice from them. It's always good stuff and always something interesting. You are going to learn some each issue that is for sure.
To wrap things up, again, tell us how if people aren't subscribibed to the magazine and they are Missouri residents, how can they subscribe?
>> Yeah. The easiest way is just to go on our website mdc.mo.gov and it won't take you long to find the magazines there. Again, they are free to Missouri residents. If you want to save some paper or send it to some folks out of state, all of our online options are free. You can sign up to get it as an email notification. You get an email and it says, "hey the PDF is ready to download."
You can download that PDF. It looks the exact same as the printed product. Obviously, a hand held magazine is my fave. But you are not missing out if you go with any of the digital options.
>> Plus you were saying there are all those little, sometimes extra little highlights and videos and audio files you can listen to.
>> Yep. The moconmag app is available on apple and android applications. Those little extras every time add a little something.
>> A little tasty treat.
Again, if anybody wants to submit story ideas or photos, again a reminder. You guys plan this out way in advance. It is not like it can be inserted.
>> Yeah. I mean it's not concrete. You know. Obviously we are adaptable and agile, but just so we can plan the best content and take advantage of all the seasonal appropriate places to go and things to see, we do plan but obviously we can work things in.
>> Well and you probably have to be adaptable, too.
>> Things change.
>> Exactly. Things change. You can email any of that. If you have suggestions, photos, or comments you can email to email@example.com.
Alright, Stephanie! Thank you so much for joining me today!
>> Thanks, Jill. This was fun. I am happy to talk about magazines any day.
>> Kudos to you and your team for putting out amazing work every month. I encourage everybody to view it online. Explore and the Missouri Conservationist - or subscribe! Free to Missouri residents. Thank you so much!
>> Thank you.
>> Thanks again to magazine manager, Stephanie Thurber. And thank you for tuning in to another episode of Nature Boost. I'm Jill Pritchard with the Missouri Department of Conservation encouraging you to get your daily dose of the outdoors.